The UK's infrastructure industry could experience a significant skills crisis in the near future, with a new report claiming there aren't enough qualified workers to complete pipeline projects in London and the south-east.
London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and KPMG's 'Skills to Build' research revealed the construction sector must add 20 per cent more workers to its ranks to deliver scheduled initiatives by 2017.
However, highly skilled contractors could benefit from the current situation, with the report urging Infrastructure UK to re-examine existing public procurement deals.
LCCI and KPMG said the organisation should ensure skills and employment requirements are built into these agreements, providing a stronger baseline for tier one suppliers and contractors.
As such, limited company contractors and freelancers with the right skills may find themselves in high demand if there continues to be a shortage in qualified employees with coveted talents over the next three years.
Major projects on the horizon
Infrastructure ventures worth roughly £96 billion are currently in the pipeline for the UK, with businesses struggling to find the right people to fill both professional and manual labour roles. These projects include Crossrail and HS2, to name just two.
Therefore, this means that everyone from chief executives to construction contractors could find themselves in greater demand, as long as they possess the skills employers are looking for.
The Skills to Build report estimated there needs to be a 51 per cent boost to the amount of training workers receive if the country is going to remain on track with these planned projects.
For instance, approximately 600,000 personnel will be required onsite by as early as April 2015, of which 225,000 will be working on house building schemes. Currently, there is a shortage of nearly 15,000 people in this area alone, showing that measures need to be taken to significantly increase recruitment in this field.
In addition, according to figures from LCCI and KPMG, around 400,000 individuals are due to retire in the next five to ten years, creating further problems for organisations hoping to deliver projects.
Richard Threlfall, KPMG UK head of infrastructure for building and construction, said this is the first time in decades that the country has a solid portfolio of projects on the agenda.
"But delivery of that pipeline is now in jeopardy - not for lack of political will or funding - but for lack of a sufficiently large and trained workforce," he explained.
"Unless action is taken now, our housing targets will be missed and infrastructure projects delayed."
Chief executive of LCCI Colin Stanbridge added: "The detailed findings of this report highlight just how grave skills shortages are in the construction sector, with significant deficits of capable workers across numerous trades and professions."
Taking the next step
Aside from making improvements to public procurement deals, there are various other recommendations KPMG and LCCI highlighted in their report that could help to boost recruitment levels and prevent the current skills shortage from getting worse.
The two organisations urged the government to make careers advice mandatory from the first year of secondary school, meaning young people would be encouraged to think about their subject choices and potential job application routes from the age of 11 onwards. There should also be annual careers reports that specify available professions and training.
Furthermore, the Skills Funding Agency should be encouraged to evolve training and apprenticeship frameworks, with changes passed on to the relevant providers to adopt.
It is also important for local authorities to take a more active role in future projects. This could involve devolving funding and skills responsibility to councils or redeveloping the commissioning of training provision based on demand.
Mr Stanbridge said the organisation's members have identified skills gaps as a pertinent issue for some time, but the report gives a clearer idea of the problem's urgency.
"Our task now is to enact changes to address the inherent issues which have led to the construction skills crisis we face," he stated.
Mr Threlfall echoed these comments, adding that training providers must be prepared for changing construction market conditions, particularly in relation to the labour market.
This includes a greater focus on technology applications and growing trend towards offsite manufacturing procedures.
He concluded: "This report calls on the industry itself to wake up and take responsibility to increase levels of training dramatically."